Z.A.M.M III: Feasting With Panthers
Thursday, June 15, 2006

Inara tries to have a civilized evening. With the Serenity crew.


Feasting With Panthers

“River...” Simon sees his sister, as she was meant to be, as she should be.

Ilargia holds Jayne‘s nostrils until he surfaces from her neck, and follows her pointing finger.

“Gorram. Ain’t you somethin’?”

River steps gracefully down, pleased by the response. (Captain’s mind has taken flight like scared birds. But for one instant, he saw her.) Simple pleasure in their minds at the sight of her, a complex twist of regret in Simon, flash of startled disquiet and gone again from Zoe.

No longer the broken girl-child he found in a box. Walks like a queen...He fastens his gaze on Inara with a sudden fervour.

Inara watches River. There are girls here who will never be able to attain that level of balance and grace, even with a lifetime of training. The little waif is becoming a young lady. Pleased with her handiwork, she paces down to join them all.

Mal, still a little thrown, bows over her hand.

“You’ve given our little albatross some fine feathers there. Not used to seeing her with her hair brushed.”

River rather ruins the elegant facade by sticking her tongue out at him.


The lamps throw soft shadows in the small dining hall, catch small details of embroidery or carving, shine on the richness of polished dark wood. It is an elegant space, designed for small, intimate meals and quiet, refined conversation...

“I hope we got meat this time round.” comes a gravelly whisper from behind her. “Din’t get nothin’ but vegetables last time.”

“You have no concept of fine dining, do you?” Articulate and weary.

“Don’t understand eating poor when you don’t have to.”

“You two keep bickerin’, I’m reckonin’ there’ll be no pudding.” Mal hisses. “Bad enough listenin’ to you both fighting in the bath...” He stops himself.

“Now, that’s an image.” Ilargia says, amid a number of female snorts. “And we missed it, Kaylee.”

“Were there wet towels?” Zoe smirks at Mal’s horrified expression. “I’m just askin’, sir...”

Inara sighs. So, forget the refined conversation.

They fall into their usual pattern of seating without thought. So Inara finds herself facing Mal down the table, with Simon on one side of her, and, slightly more worrying, Jayne on the other.

The kitchens here prepare anything that might be met throughout the civilised world. Which means that half the table are going to be facing some strange dishes. But others will be finding a taste of home. She has chosen the menu with care.

Inara is quite glad that they are not sharing the main dining hall with the trainees. She likes these people, but not all of them have the kind of table manners that she has spent time instilling into her pupils. They don’t wait for the attendants, chatting, passing bowls around, helping themselves, trying things off other plates. There is no peaceful contemplation of the harmonious arrangements of the food.

“This recipe, I have to get.” Ilargia savours a piece of something crisp and dry-fried, sharp taste of chilli and garlic and honey.

Inara wonders how the woman thinks she is going to reproduce some of the finest cuisine in the ‘verse in Serenity’s kitchen. And she’s obviously thinking that a bit too loudly.

“Not a euphemism.” River is stern. “Really can cook.”

Mal glances up sharply.

“You insulting our cook, there?” Which brings Jayne’s head up, too, defensive. Inara responds carefully, grateful that they seem to have missed the initial import of River’s remark.

“I...merely wondered how you would go about recreating such a recipe, given the scale of the kitchen.”

“I might be somewhat hampered by a lack of equipment and ingredients, but I can produce something halfway decent.” Ilargia is hurt, and a little irritated. She misses her kitchen and her books and her knives. Jayne rubs her shoulder comfortingly.

“Bao bei, we lived on protein mush and rice a long time before you came. Fact you can put such taste into it is a gorram triumph.” He smirks. “Not that I’m gonna say no to a little experimentation.”

“You never do.” She grins back, steals a strip of quail from his plate. “Next time we land anyplace that you can get out and hunt, you bring me something back for the pot.”

“But don’t use any of my scalpels to joint it this time.” Simon grumbles.

Luckily, the attendants come in to serve another set of dishes at that juncture, and the sizzle of the plates disperses the tension.

Mal thinks that Inara is looking rather superior. Probably waiting for him to blow his nose on the tablecloth or some such. Takes a deliberately large helping of rice.

“Step up from the ‘good dogs’ at Eavesdown, eh, Gia?”

“Oh.” She wrinkles her nose, but before Inara can congratulate her on her taste, “Uses too much coriander. Much better fare at Trackrabbit Slim’s.”

“What is a track rabbit?” Inara has never heard of the species.

“Rats.” Ilargia hastens to reassure her. “But mostly he uses guinea pigs. I like to meet the meat.”

Inara is not reassured. River is puzzled.

“Why are snails civilized and rodents not?”

“Different places to stand.” Mal gives Inara a look. “Some places a woman’s a Companion, other places she’s a...”

“Mal.” Inara glares. “Don’t ruin the meal for everyone.”

Ilargia actually answers River.

“People eat whatever is around them, sweetie...”

( “In Jayne’s case, that’s whatever can’t get off his plate quickly enough...”

“Shut up, Simon.”)

“...and guinea pigs were quite a delicacy on Earth-That-Was in certain countries. It‘s that fine line between delicatessen and petshop. Some people juggle geese, some people eat puppies.”

“I always thought Core folk were too civilized to go butchering animals.” (Mal takes an oblique swipe at the Buddhist toying with her eggplant and tofu.)

“Oh, rare steak equals social deviant.” Ilargia grins. “Unless you’re from certain places on Londinium...that’s a whole different can of worms...”

“Worms?” Jayne stops eating, eyes his plate of noodles suspiciously. Mal smirks.

“Now, Gia, you know he ain’t been right since you told him ‘bout the snails.”

“Ain’t nobody should be eating bugs less’n they absolutely have to.”

“Not bugs. Mollusc. Gastropods. Helix Pomatia.”

“Fat and milk-fed and cooked in garlic...” Ilargia sounds dreamy.

“Just snot in shell to me.” Jayne looks at his wife uneasily. “I mean, you kiss me with that mouth.”

“Now I feel sick.” says Simon. He turns to Inara. “Mealtimes have a whole new dimension of terror, now. We just have to hope that we never meet another sentient life form. He’ll kill it and she’ll cook it.”

“We come in pieces.” River giggles. This room, this food reminds her of...different times. Perhaps not happier. She turns the small portion of bird in her fingers. Under the varnish, still just meat.

Jayne likes to see a woman enjoy her food. Larji don’t pick at things. She’s working her way through a pile of spare-ribs. He likes his ribs with a little more meat and sauce to ‘em - makes him think on the Cobb family recipe. They ever get round to affording some decent groceries...

“That will be a good secret.” River tells him.

“Now, don’t you go peekin’ in my head. That sauce recipe is family business...”

Inara makes quiet conversation with Simon.

“She seems to be getting better.”

“She’s...improving. Learning to manage her...condition.” Simon picks his words. He can’t think how better to put it - well, he can. Living around Jayne has expanded his vocabulary, but it doesn’t seem appropriate in these surroundings. “She’s far more lucid, now. And I’m gradually bringing her medication down...”

Inara listens, asks intelligent questions. Mal watches them, scowls slightly. Woman’s up to something. Mal knows her, by now. He can’t figure on the what. But she’s playing him.


They sip green tea, even Jayne feeling pleasantly full. Inara surveys them.

She claps her hands, and the attendants clear the dishes. And from somewhere behind the walls, music starts. A delicate melody from a time and place long distant. River’s head goes up, and her lips part.

Mal and Inara look along the table at each other. The memory of the last time they danced in both their minds.

“Dinner and dancing? This is a real fancy party.”

Inara raises cool eyebrows at him. Companions do not ever display irritation. And much as it would please her to do so, she can’t get away with treading on his feet either.

He should ask her to dance again. But he’ll be damned if he’ll give her the satisfaction. Because that would be his only reason for doing what he does next.

“Well, I can’t leave a pretty girl sitting like a wallflower.” He bows, extends a hand to River.

River rises elegantly, tips her chin.

“La, sir, you flatter me.” A sudden gleam of wicked humour. “One trusts that you will not be so...vigorous as at our last encounter?”

Inara’s smile slips a notch, even as they step out of earshot. Mal remembers the last time he danced with River, curbs his stride.

“Now, that ain’t fair. ‘Sides, this is civilised prancing about.”

“Simon split his pants. Dance lessons. Age twelve.” River murmurs. Mal snickers.

Simon finds his feet, his tongue and his manners, bows to Kaylee.

“Miss Frye, would you do me the honour...”

They smile foolishly at one another. River smiles, too. All those hours of avoiding Kaylee’s boots paid off, as she waltzes daintily in Simon’s arms.

Simon, who had hated every minute of having to dance with his bratty little sister as a boy, now blesses it. Kaylee is enchanted. She’s gonna have to get some of that fancy liquor on board Serenity, ‘cos it does wonders for Simon’s confidence. An’ in these little slippers, she ain’t so fretted about standing on his toes.

Jayne eyes Ilargia uneasily.

“You wantin’ to dance?”

“You askin’?” She laughs at his face. “I can’t dance, darling. Not all formally like this, anyway.”

“Ain’t no deal.” Jayne relaxes gratefully. “Not my kinda shindig, neither. Like my music with a bit more pep.”

“I would love to take you to a gig - get you dancing all sweaty and shirtless.”

“Gorram, woman, you’re insatiable.” Smirks. “I can do sweaty and shirtless - you just tell me when.”

They laugh softly together, and she rests into his shoulder. Tastes of rice wine and the sugar of candied fruit on her lips...

“He really loves her, doesn’t he?” Inara is surprised by the wistful edge to her own voice. Zoe gives her a solemn look.

“If she’d been with us back...when, he’d have been out fighting with River.”


Kaylee, laughing and a little dizzy from rice wine and waltzin’, needs to sit. So Simon taps Mal on the shoulder.


“I’m cutting in.” Simon grins. “Why don’t you ask Zoe to dance?”

“You ask her.”

“I’m not that brave, Captain. Now, sir, unhand my sister.”

Both Tams grin at him, suddenly, uncannily alike. Mal grins back, bows in graceful defeat. And does as suggested.

Zoe raises an eyebrow, but rises gracefully to her feet. Won’t be the first time they ever danced together. And it ain’t like betraying Wash in another man’s arms. Captain’s her other self, best and oldest friend. She can feel the anger in him, the confusion. Mutters out of the corner of his mouth.

“What do you reckon, then? We being played?”

“You’re mighty suspicious, sir.”

“I got reason to be.” Smooths a scowl. “Woman uses wiles on me.”

“We’ll find out soon enough.” Zoe still has a bad feeling about all of this. Casts an eye over the gilt and frippery around them. “They ain’t short of coin here, and any job’s likely legal.”


River pushes Simon.

“Shouldn’t dance with me all evening.”

“Oh, all right.” Simon, inspired by a devil, taps Mal on the shoulder.

“You cuttin’ in again?”

“Yes. Do excuse me.” And a startled Mal finds himself being waltzed across the floor by the other Tam. The rest of the crew whoop and cheer.

Inara puts her face in her hands.


Thursday, June 15, 2006 9:24 AM


I love the relationship between Jayne and 'Larji. Really, they're just too cute for words together. Jayne in love makes for a very interesting character.

This meal, despite taking place in the Companion training house, was oddly reminiscent of their shared meals on Serenity. Even though it's supposed to be a more formal affair, they're still who they are and the friendship and love between the crew is noticeable in these moments they're all together. You portray it so well. I love reading the way you write their interactions.

I'm loving this. My favourite line in this one? "River rather ruins the elegant facade by sticking her tongue out at him.". That's just such a River thing. LOL.

Thursday, June 15, 2006 12:14 PM


This was priceless. I love Simon's "Now I feel sick" at Jayne's comment about the snails. Like Mal and Zoe I am feeling mighty suspicious of what Inara is up to and how much this mighty fine meal might cost them in the end. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Saturday, June 17, 2006 3:19 AM


Wonderful!! Finally, Simon's sense of devilish humor comes out>>> "and a startled Mal finds himself being waltzed across the floor by the other Tam". Bet Inara didn't see that coming!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 2:46 PM


Wonderful! Icouldn't agree more. I read this awhile ago, and have had trouble getting my comments to post due to the site issues. I really love this story line. I especially like how different (and yet sometimes similar) Inara and Ilargia are. Simon and Mal dancing was great.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 7:30 PM


Been wanting to post on this for awhile, SpaceAnJL.....but the site wouldn't let me:(

Still...gotta love how you made the crew take Inara's wonderfully interesting attempt to have a sedate evening (probably to get Mal into a relaxed mood...though her methodology is faulty *wink*) and turn it into one of their crazy dinner antics:)

But I gotta wonder though: what dark and worrisome conspiracy are you gonna have Inara involve the crew in? Cuz she has secrets...but this kind of stuff? Guess she really did have acting skills....


Sunday, August 17, 2008 12:13 PM


~~~“Just snot in shell to me.” Jayne looks at his wife uneasily. “I mean, you kiss me with that mouth.”

“Now I feel sick.” says Simon. He turns to Inara. “Mealtimes have a whole new dimension of terror, now. We just have to hope that we never meet another sentient life form. He’ll kill it and she’ll cook it.”~~~~

Laughed out loud for a couple of minutes for that one.

Just excellent.



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